Jefferson researchers uncover biochemical clues to how cells migrate in embryos

Researchers at Jefferson Medical College and Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center are gaining a better understanding of the cues that help guide cells to the right places in developing embryos.

Steven Farber, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and his co-workers have found that statins, the group of anti-cholesterol drugs that includes the popular Lipitor, interfere with a biochemical pathway vital to the migration of germ cells in embryonic zebrafish. In all organisms, including humans, germ cells are stem cells that are destined to become either sperm or egg cells, and they must migrate from one place in the developing embryo to another before development can occur.

A better understanding of germ cell migration, Dr. Farber says, and cell migration in general, might lead to insights into disease processes, including cancer. Cancer turns deadly when it spreads to other areas in the body.

Dr. Farber and his co-workers report their findings in the February 2004 issue of the journal Developmental Cell.

"We have identified an enzyme in zebrafish and there is a companion paper in the journal identifying the same pathway in fruit flies showing that if you interfere with this enzyme, germ cells don't migrate correctly," he says. "It's likely a general feature of all vertebrates, and not simply a fish-specific observation."

In earlier work, Dr. Farber had studied the effects of statins on lipid metabolism in zebrafish embryos. Dr. Farber knew that researchers at New York University School of Medicine had found that a mutation in a gene for an enzyme, HMG-CoAReductase, disrupted germ cell migration in fruit flies. In both the fruit fly and all vertebrate embryos, germ cells need to migrate through the developing embryo to their final destination, where they develop into sperm or egg cells. HMG-CoAReductase also plays a central role in chole

Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University

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